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Woodhouse College
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Principal's remarks - Open Day 2018

The following is a transcription of Principal John Rubinstein's speech to visiting students and parents at our open day on Saturday 10th November 2018. 
 
 
 
The sixth form is a crucial time, a special time – and we are specialists in sixth form.
 
The sixth form is a launch-pad into adulthood. Young people join as Year 11 school kids and they leave as 18-year olds, off to university and the adult world. Sixth-formers need specialist support, specialist systems and environment to bring out the best in them and let them flourish.
 
Woodhouse College is a specialist sixth form. We have made our reputation and built our success on doing one thing only and doing it as well as we can: being a specialist sixth form, providing an A level education, being a bridge to university and adulthood.
 
And our success is considerable.
 
Our A level results last year (second best in our history by the way) placed us second best sixth form college in England. Top performing non-grammar sixth form in Barnet.
 
70% of all grades were top A*-B; over 100 students got straight A* and A grades. Close to 55% went to Russell Group universities; 15 to Oxford and Cambridge; 29 to medical school; and hosts of others to top destinations in their field – whether that be Hertfordshire for animation, Bournemouth for film or Courtauld for art history.
 
Not just outstanding raw results; but we are proud of the fact that our students do even better here than on average they would elsewhere. Despite the fact that our students come in with good GCSE grades, their A level results last year were about 5% better than they would expect to do on average nationally. They call that positive value added or above average progress.
 
Our academic success is clear. If you are an aspiring high-achiever, if you want to work hard and achieve your potential, if you want to go to the elite universities, this is the place for you. We are specialist in providing support for you to achieve your dreams; specialists in providing opportunities that enable you to build up your cv; specialists in UCAS (university applications), in Oxbridge and medical school applications; specialist in providing coaching for STEP and other entry tests.
 
But we are more than an academic hot house. Because that’s not what our young people need. We provide a holistic environment where our young people can grow and become the people they want to be.
 
It is a real privilege for us to see the process of students growing before our eyes, to play a role in helping students develop, mature into adults and go off confidently into the adult world.
 
Part of our expertise is our strong pastoral support systems. You may have heard the opposite, you may have heard that students are left to sink or swim, you may have heard all sorts of things from schools who are, frankly, desperate to keep hold of students because of their finances and ruthless in their campaigns of misinformation about rivals.
 
One school last year told parents not to send students to Woodhouse or Fortismere because we have class sizes of 35. Made up information to deter students from going elsewhere for their A levels - I guess you would call it fake news these days. Our average class size is 20 with no class over 24.
 
Our pastoral support is outstanding. Students have a form tutor and above them a senior tutor, just like at school. We have safeguarding staff to look after students when life gets serious and personal problems overwhelm them; we have counsellors, progress managers to support and mentor students, a full time careers coordinator,an ALS dept that is second to none, attendance staff and a host of other staff to support and challenge students. The proof of the effectiveness of that team is that we lose hardly any students. Our retention is outstanding.
 
You might worry, incidentally, that we are so big that students might get lost here. And our students will tell you that we are big. A lovely large campus with several different buildings and grounds that are well used in the dry, warm months of the year, not to mention our all-weather pitch with its 3G surface. We are big and yet in other ways we are not. We are smaller than most local state schools, smaller than APS, Fortismere, Ashmole, Mill Hill County, Highgate Wood, East Barnet, smaller than all of them, with fewer staff, fewer students. All our staff fit in one room, once a week for staff briefing. Why would students be lost or overlooked in a school that is smaller than the average comprehensive?
 
But it feels big, feels almost like a university, a bridge to university but in a safe, supported and structured environment.
 
One of the advantages of having a larger year group is that we can offer pretty much any combination of subjects.
 
Another advantage is that we can offer a far better extra curricular programme than most school sixth forms. We think that extracurricular activities are really important, a chance to develop skills, have different experiences and challenges, develop personally in new and different ways, build the cv. We have a huge array of societies, sports, activities, trips, Duke of Edinburgh, musical theatre, prom, debating, model UN, you name it we have it, and a lot of volunteering, including in local schools.
 
A word on the curriculum, which is now fully linear and based on exams at the end of Year 13. No AS levels anymore. Like GCSEs, A levels have been made harder. Almost everyone just does three. Universities only expect three, even top ones like Oxford and Cambridge.A few students do four, but it is tough and I would only advise it if there is a specific reason and if the student has outstanding GCSE results, 8s and 9s.
 
Choice of A levels is important, perhaps the most important decision .... do your research! Choose subjects that you are good at and that you enjoy. Don’t do a subject just because people tell you it is well regarded.
 
There are all sorts of ways of measuring a school’s standards, some of which I have mentioned. But there are two I want to mention which are quite interesting
 
  • The size of our alumni organisation – several thousand students - and the willingness of our ex-students to come back, to give back, mentoring students, doing talks, giving mock interviews, providing role models. It says something about a school, doesn’t it, that so many ex-students want to give back to the community.
  • How many staff would send their own kids to the school? My two daughters came here from local schools and so did dozens of other staff children.
I started by saying that Woodhouse is a specialist sixth form. We are also a special place, I think. A place where high achieving students can be openly ambitious and work hard to achieve their dreams, a place where people find their feet as young adults and go out into the world with confidence.
 
We had a visit from an Oxbridge specialist this week doing some interview workshops and mock interviews, and she took me aside at the end and asked: this is such an amazing college and you do so well: what’s your secret? Our secret is excellent staff, who are specialists in their subjects but also in sixth form education, fantastic students, and a culture of high expectations.